Fort St. John Arts Council plans sweeping study of sector's economic impact, future needs

How much does the arts, culture, and heritage sector contribute to North Peace economy, and what resources are needed to meet the growing demands of residents?

No one really knows, but estimates peg the impact at a conservative $4 million, though it's likely much more. What is known is that groups across the region are crunched for funds and crunched for space. The Fort St. John Arts Council is trying to quantify it all with a proposal to study the arts, culture, and heritage sector in the region to help with future planning.

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"The economic impact of this sector has never really been identified and we’d like to nail that down," Sue Popesku, director of the Artspost, told Taylor councillors at a meeting on March 18. "Every time we have more and more people as residents, we have more demands on the arts and heritage sector."

The arts council is applying to the Canadian Department of Heritage for a $75,000 grant to help fund public engagement on developing an arts, culture, and heritage strategy. It's already secured $20,000 from the City of Fort St. John, and is looking for $6,000 each from Taylor and Electoral Areas B and C in support of its application.

Arts groups are in need of more space and more people are requesting new creative programs. There's been talk in the community about the need for a creative hub of studio spaces for local artists, while new initiatives such as an orchestral program, and others geared toward ethnic communities are being discussed.

"If we want to do effective planning for the next 20 to 30 years, we need to know what are people are looking for, what are the trends of what they’re interested in?" said Connie Surerus, secretary of the arts council.

"We keep seeing this demand and need for different types of arts programming. Having this engagement, and getting a comprehensive study done of what's being provided now, what are the needs, what are the wants, to be then able to plan for the future. We're not relying anecdotes and assumptions, we’re relying on cold hard facts."

Arts and culture is critical to attracting and retaining employees in the North, Popesku said. The sector is already strong and viable, but knowing the full scope of it will help attract more funds to meet demands.

"It’s growing so fast that coming to you for more funds for that, we’re going to have to do that unless we can prove to outside sources that we need more funds from the outside, and from everyone, collectively," Popesku said.

"More space, more programs brings in more money. That’s what we want to do. We want to generate it from them, but we have to plan to do it."

Taylor council was receptive to the need for the study. Getting hard data on the sector's impact, and knowing there are as many kids dancing as playing hockey is important, Mayor Rob Fraser said.

"It will go a long way to show that the vast majority of people in this region are tied to the arts and heritage somehow," he said.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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